The road to Bruno Fernandes signing a new Manchester United contract has been long and winding. As The Athletic revealed last year, United executives first raised the prospect in November 2020, only 10 months after Fernandes arrived in England.

The idea was to bring Fernandes in line with the club’s top earners to reflect his contribution to the team. He had joined from Sporting Lisbon on a salary worth around £120,000 per week including bonuses, placing him in the middle of United’s squad list, because his wage in Portugal had been relatively modest — around £50,000 per week. Fernandes was happy to more than double his wages as well as play for a club of United’s prestige but his performances soon superseded his position on the balance sheet.

He was on a par with Juan MataNemanja Matic and Phil Jones, and earning half as much as Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba. David de Gea, on £375,000 per week, was a speck in the distance.

It is crass to distil football into finance but there was a clear discrepancy between Fernandes’s influence on the team and his remuneration. In his first year at United, Fernandes scored 29 goals and provided 20 assists in 54 games.

Discussions were gradual because of the effects of the pandemic and when United’s first offer arrived last autumn the terms were not to Fernandes’s satisfaction. As detailed by The Athletic in January, talks were shelved with Fernandes wishing to see how the season shaped out, in terms of United’s fortunes and interest from elsewhere. Sources say Barcelona have been compiling reports.

That an agreement has come before the end of the campaign is a sign of United’s long-term view on Fernandes. They evidently believe he will be an instrumental player for several seasons, with head of negotiations Matt Judge returning to the table and raising the club’s offer.

Fernandes’ deal is believed to be worth £15 million per year, equivalent to £290,000 per week, which reduces to around £240,000 per week in the event United fail to qualify for the Champions League. The club write such reduction clauses into contracts as a rule, although sources say Mino Raiola managed to get Pogba’s waived when signing terms in 2016.

Fernandes is now understood to only earn less than De Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo and an indication that the primary purpose of this deal was to elevate his standing can be seen by its length. The new contract is worth just one extra year to the old one, running to 2026 with the option to extend to 2027.

Fernandes will be 32 by that point so it is fair to question whether United had to press the button on this now, especially when a permanent manager is yet to be appointed. Liverpool are pushing Mohamed Salah’s new deal to the wire and took their time on captain Jordan Henderson’s too.

But United, led by football director John Murtough and signed off by chief executive Richard Arnold and co-owner Joel Glazer, clearly believe Fernandes will suit whoever takes charge and that for the player, the comfort of having a new contract sorted should aid his performances.

Fernandes spurned United’s early contract offer (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Fernandes’ levels have dipped this season and even if he has much credit in the bank there was an argument for waiting to see if he has an upturn before increasing the offer. There have been many examples in the past at Old Trafford of individuals playing better when trying to earn a fresh contract.

Ralf Rangnick knew about developments with Fernandes and insisted on getting terms sorted now. Fans should be encouraged that Fernandes has signed now, with United’s Champions League qualification for next season in the balance. It could be seen as proof of the midfielder’s commitment.

“I was informed on negotiations,” Rangnick said. “He is a player where there would have been interest from other clubs in Europe and he decided to stay here and sign a new long-term contract. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t believe in the future of this club. It shows that independent of knowing if there’s going to be Champions League or not that it’s a massive club, an attractive club.”

From a business perspective, United could have as much as £750,000 per week shaved off the wage bill this summer, providing ample room for Fernandes’ rise. Pogba, Mata, Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard all see their contract expire in a few months.

Pogba has had a proposal worth £400,000 per week on the table since last year but the situation is described as inactive at present. Sources said last week that other players were being prioritised, hinting at Fernandes. It is anticipated that Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw are the next in line to hold talks. Both have contracts running to 2023 with the option of an extra year.

Fernandes’ new status means expectations will be raised. His numbers have tracked down since his blistering start, moving from 1.13 goals and assists per game in 2019-20 to 0.87 per game in 2020-21 to 0.58 this campaign. Ronaldo assuming penalty responsibilities is a minor factor, with the flux around the club a larger cause.

Fernandes was the unquestioned No 10 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when he was given the licence to try risky passes for maximum reward. Possession flowed through him. Rangnick’s arrival saw a shift to a 4-2-2-2 system that did not work for Fernandes or the team. The 4-3-3 picked recently has made use of Fernandes’s dynamism up and down the pitch, a facet to his game that higher up could be a gift and a curse. At No 10, he has sometimes pressed the opposition on his own, leaving gaps behind.

The task for United’s new manager will be to get Fernandes functioning to his fullest in and out of possession

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.